The Malaysian subsidiary of Japanese electronics firm Asahi Kosei
filed a $3.2 million defamation suit against human rights defender
Charles Hector after he posted on his blog reports he received from
Burmese migrant workers detailing violations of their worker and human
rights at the company.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calls on the
company to drop the charges, which appear to have no purpose other than
to silence critics by threat of financial ruin. Further, the lawsuit has
the potential to chill the speech of other workers and worker advocates
who would otherwise speak out against violations of fundamental rights
committed by other domestic and multinational corporations in Malaysia.
The ITUC also calls upon Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd to hire its workers
directly, rather than through an outsourcing agency, and to respect
Malaysian and international standards on both labor and migration.
Thirty-one Burmese migrants working at Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd
alleged being paid wages lower than what was promised when they agreed
to migrate to Malaysia; numerous illegal (and large) wage deductions;
loss of cooking utensils, electricity, and even accommodation for
raising employment-related grievances; and being threatened with
termination and deportation of workers when they lodged complaints about
these violations. Hearing this, Hector intervened on the workers’
behalf, seeking additional information and a reply to the workers’
allegations from the company. Hearing no reply, Hector posted the
allegations to his blog on February 8 to pressure the company to address
workers’ complaints. The company filed suit against him six days later.
One argument that the company has put forward is that it is not
responsible for the workers, as they are actually supplied to the
company through a third party. Although Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd does not
pay the workers directly, the workers at the factory are under their
direct control and supervision, and use the tools and equipment of the
factory. There is little question that Asahi Kosei (M) Sdn Bhd is, under
an objective assessment of the arrangement, the employer—regardless of
the contract. Indeed, ILO Recommendation 198, which sets forth criteria
for ascertaining the existence of an employment relationship, suggests
that an employment relationship does exist in this case. Further, the
ITUC understands that the outsourcing company through which Asahi Kosei
(M) Sdn Bhd procured the migrant workers was not legally registered in
Malaysia under the law regulating private employment agencies.
The court dates for Hector have been set for August 23–26. The ITUC
adds its voice to urge that the company immediately drop its defamation
claim against Hector. The ITUC also calls upon the company to respect
the rights of workers, regardless of their contractual status, and
strongly encourages it to hire workers directly. Further, the ITUC calls
upon the Malaysian authorities to investigate the labor violations
alleged and to take action accordingly.